tonight when sei and i were going through our night time routine with our boys, the four year-old volunteered to say the prayer. he thanked Heavenly Father for the usual things–a good day, his brother, etc.–then asked for the standard blessings–for him to be good, for everyone to be safe and sleep well. then he said something new: “and please bless us to be together forever.” i opened one eye to glance at my beautiful son, who was sitting on my lap, and instantly teared up at the image. he was sitting, arms folded around his stuffed winnie the pooh bear, eyelashes lying gently on his brown cheeks as he closed his eyes in a most fervent prayer.
i know religion isn’t for everyone, and God isn’t for everyone. but i don’t think any parent–or human, for that matter–can deny the awe children inspire when they truly believe in something, no matter what it is. my son genuinely believes that he is going to live forever with his family; even more importantly, he actually wants to be with us forever. i can’t quite explain the inadequacy that flooded my entire being when i heard my son pray for an eternity with me; in an instant i remembered every mistake i’d ever made, silently repented for my flaws as a mother, gave thanks that i’m not in this parenting thing alone. and in that same instant, i marveled that despite all my weaknesses and all the times i could have been more patient or less critical or more loving, my son still sees me as fit to accompany him into the eternities. after hearing this honest expression of my baby’s trust in my abilities, the weight of my responsibility as a mother hit me all over again, same as it did on the day he was born.
during a recent talk given at a worldwide lds conference, one of the leaders of my church spoke about parenting. among other things, he mentioned “difficult” children. he said that some children are just more challenging than others, plain and simple. then he said something that really struck me, for many reasons: he said that in his opinion, these children are sent to us because we, their parents, need them. i immediately thought of my older son, who i have a complicated relationship with. the truth is, this boy is nearly exactly like me. not only do he and i share many physical traits, he is also the apple to my hyper, inattentive, precocious, willful, inquisitive, affectionate, stubborn tree. i’m convinced that he gets along so well with sei because sei has learned to deal with me over the years, so dealing with a toddler version of me isn’t so different. i, on the other hand, apparently would have a hard time getting along with myself, if my relationship with my son is any indication.
not to say that i don’t love my son. quite the opposite, actually. i have loved and adored this child since the moment he was just a twinkle in my eye. i admire him, am blown away by his intelligence and fiery personality, and every day i find new reasons to marvel that this beautiful creature belongs to me. unfortunately, this love doesn’t translate into a perfect mother-son symbiosis. in fact, it is often only this complete adoration of my son that saves him from hourly 30-minute timeouts. we butt heads constantly, and if i’m not always on my guard, he knows just how to get his way, or to get out of trouble. it’s frustrating beyond measure, and i often question whether or not i’m doing right by him, if maybe i’m not meant to be his mother. it’s not uncommon for me to think that maybe another woman might have done a better job as his mom.
but then i remember the words of that wise man’s talk, that maybe these “difficult” children come to us because there is something we need to learn. in other words, maybe i’m the difficult one. maybe my son, perfect and innocent being that he is, is molding me into the woman i am supposed to be. this idea has revolutionized my world. although i still struggle to keep my calm when my boy is having a particularly unruly moment and must literally bite my tongue to prevent myself from telling him to be quiet when he’s asked me 84 questions about why tyrannosaurus rexes have such short arms (i still fall prey to that temptation occasionally), i see these experiences as opportunities for growth. the more belligerent he is, the more i must turn my criticism inward and ask myself what i’m doing wrong, what i need to change in order to be a better mother.
and if i still can’t bring myself to take the care that is necessary to lovingly explain to my child that it’s postulated that t-rexes’ arms were used to constrain prey during a kill, i’ll remember my son’s prayer. i’ll remember that he wants to be with me, forever. me.
and i want it to stay that way.